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A grande dame is what this place is, like one of those powdered but slightly too made up, overly attentive birdlike old ladies with a string of natural pearls. The problem is that the perfume is cloying. Frankly, this is a beautiful property if you’re into this kind of old money faded elegance, but, you see, we’re not.

Set in the heart of La Jolla by the Pacific, the Grande Colonial is an institution. It has been here so long that it rests comfortably on its laurels. The staff is ultra professional, engaging and extremely well trained. The common areas are luxurious in an old school way. The restaurant nine-ten has been very good for so long that NPS has even dined here multiple times. The chef is named Jason.

I was assigned suite 102 overlooking the pool and a parking lot. That kind of says it all. Parking lot?

102 entry and seating area

The shape of the room is strange. There are mirrors everywhere, even where they don’t belong. But it’s not a hamster cage!

seating area by the heater presided over by the giant TV

a comfortable poofy bed

The colors and muted and the style is dated in a vertical striped sort of way.

nope

The shower is a plastic tub with an obesity bar. Fortunately the shower curtain is not plastic, but still. These kinds of showers do nobody any good out there in the world. Lets replace them all. 1950s tile is cool.

A nightcap at the bar involved a Corpse Reviver #2 made by muscle memory with no sign of measurement. The non-measurement is a problem, because to do its magic, this drink must be precise. But everyone at the bar was very professional and friendly even as they slung drinks like they had done it forever.

Breakfast by the ocean was excellent. Sadly, it did take place on east coast time.

After mandatory conference fun was complete, we headed down to San Diego for dinner and a nightcap. A visit to Jsix was unremarkable and good. Funny that we had never tried Jsix before, because it is situated in the Salomar Hotel property chunk.

After dinner, Noble Experiment was on the docket. As always, the cocktails were remarkably delicious.

Here’s how to make a drink we invented called Bill’s Big Birthday Beverage:
1 oz cardamaro
1 oz ancho reyes
1 oz fresh orange juice
2 dashes habanero shrub (bittermens)
shake, serve on a big cube. no garnish.

In the meantime, three showerheads and a new perfume choice for Grande Colonial.

(Oh, and United airlines…I will not be flying you across the country any more after the return trip. Economy plus sucks on a cross continental route, even in an exit row aisle seat.)

The flight to Buenos Aires from Newark is 11 hours and 5 minutes. The great news about such a long flight is that there is actually time enough to watch a movie, have a real sleep, and eat a good breakfast before you land. As has been the case for multiple trips in a row, United’s Polaris service (international) is second to none. Best pods. Best crew. Most flight options. Well done United. Please bring some of that goodness home to domestic flying!

Customs is now efficient in Argentina, and there is no visa tax for walking across the boarder. To be on the safe side, we set up our flight to JuJuy later in the day to give us plenty of time to be late, get stuck at customs, and otherwise be afflicted by travel woes. Of course, none of that happened.

Plan B was to take a taxi in to our hotel in Buenos Aires where we plan to check in on Monday. This was our attempt to shower in an unoccupied room, consolidate luggage, and then have lunch in the city. Thanks to the very kind people at the Fierro Hotel, we did it all and had a glass of wine in the lobby to boot. Awesome.

Room 42 is a standard issue Fierro room according to the map on the door. Modern appointment and amenities are all in abundance.

42 sitting area

From the windows in

The shower, though on the small side and a bit cramped in the bathroom, is not plastic. And boy does it feel good after being trapped in a plane for 12 hours!

ahhhhh

So a quick shower and a rearrangement of luggage (we’ll store two pieces in Buenos Aires) had us out the door before noon. That was plenty of time to find a cooperating ATM and a bistrot.

Oui Oui cafe in Palermo is recommended, but brig ear plugs if you are sensitive to noise. If you are used to rock and roll in small places, everything will be fine.

Coffee at Birkin is taken very seriously, and to good effect. (All they have is a lame ass Facebook link, so here.)

Then it was off to the other airport to fly to JuJuy.

Worth noting is the fact that Aerolinea Argentina has better equipment than United does for domestic flights. Better food too. The two hour and 15 minute flight was smooth once we negotiated the typical Argentinean boarding scrum (which for some reason always involves some sort of confusion).

Everything is slower in Jujuy, and that is just fine. For the record, that includes baggage claim, car rental, and dinner. Time to slow down.

United Polaris Global First is a good thing. There is nothing to complain about at all, really. In fact, as we’ll see here, the pods in Polaris First beat the pods in Polaris BusinessFirst hands down. The real question is, is the price delta (on the order of $5000 to $10,000 for some routes) worth the plus up in service?

Lets find out.

Here is what a Polaris BusinessFirst pod looks like

And by comparison, here is what a Polaris Global First pod looks like

There are 8 First pods on the 777, and two sections of Business pods lined 6 across (versus 4).

Seat layout on the United 777 version 1

The first class pod is much roomier. It is both longer and wider, and it is easier to sleep in. Of course, sleep does not come easy on these flights!

The first pod also has lots of compartments for stashing your stuff. This appeals to my anal sensibilities. I like consolidating and stashing stuff.

The food is exactly the same. I mean exactly. Hint: get the thai chicken udon noodles and the garlic bread.

The service is also pretty much the same. Maybe one notch more attentive in Global First, which can at times be a bit over the top.

Bathroom access is, surprisingly, better in Business. That’s because on the 777 at least, you share the bathroom with the flight crew.

Oh, and the wifi is the same. It doesn’t work.

Bottom line? Polaris BusinessFirst is definitely worth the cash outlay, but Polaris Global First, being mostly the same is something to cross your fingers for and hope for that upgrade.

If anything is true, this is: NPS votes with its money. Sure, we pile on the praise (and the snark) as necessary. We even take on hotel chains that think they have us irreversibly trapped in their loyalty program. (See, for example, this fun entry out of Los Angeles.) Well, the time has come to do some fund re-allocation.

You see, the Buchanan Hotel in San Francisco (a Kimpton) has been our San Francisco home for a couple of years. Sadly, due to too much demand, we are unable to get the room we want when we stay there. So how do we solve that problem? We remove demand. Last time we were in San Francisco we walked across the street to the Hotel Kabuki to check it out. As a result, we’re staying at Kabuki this time.

The lobby, common areas, and bar are all very upscale, nicely designed, and worth a visit. On our arrival, we dropped off the bag upstairs and headed straight to the bar. Sazarac? Yes please (with a little help from our friends).

We requested and were happy to occupy a corner room up high. Room 1402 is most likely indicative of the best room category on the property.

design sensibility 1402

The bedroom sector is the most up to date, with interesting design.

bedroom sector 1402

1402 offers a very good view of Japantown and even the Golden Gate in the distance. Two banks of windows provide a very wide view. Mornings were beautiful this week.

Luggage pod is exposed in the hallway to the door.

Luggage and refrigerator

An amenity (!!) on our first stay was very much welcome. Thanks Kabuki!! Champagne and fruit is very nice indeed.

wow, a welcome amenity and they barely know us

the window bank

Then there is the bathroom. Number one, the open design is a bit chilly. A door instead of a doorway would help. That bank of windows in 1402 (including two sliding doors installed in the ’70s) can keep things pretty chilly in February, even with two sets of curtains. Updating the glass would probably help too.

bathroom sector 1402

The shower area is huge. Too huge, as it turns out, mostly because the glass door (approved) does not shut tight and chilly air comes in to make a great shower less than great. Looks like nobody actually took a shower to test this design before implementing it.

glass shower…huge

The shower has both a drench head and a handheld shower head. But that cold air.

shower head 2

So, all is not yet well at the Hotel Kabuki, where some attention to detail is in order.

Did housekeeping remove your not quite empty bottle of sparkling water? Try calling down to get some more. No dice. And no creativity from the front desk. High end hotels solve problems.

Want espresso for breakfast in the morning? Nope.

Want to adjust the temperature? Good luck figuring out how the thermostat works (it appears not to do anything at all).

Did you open the sliding glass door to access the balcony? Getting it closed again may be an issue.

On the positive side again, Japantown is a great base of operations in San Francisco. There are exceptional restaurants and cocktail locations within striking distance, and the Filmore corridor up the hill is hopping.

We schlepped out to Haight-Ashbury for dinner at Black Sand. This local bistrot has great food and good cocktails.

We taught the bartenders how to make Bill’s Big Birthday Beverage:
1 oz Ancho Reyes
1 oz cardamaro
1 oz fresh orange juice
.25 oz hot pepper infusion (in this case, house made)
Shake. Strain. Serve up.

Anyway, with more attention to the details above, Hotel Kabuki will displace the Buchanan as San Francisco’s default location for NPS. Four showerheads for the Hotel Kabuki. Rise to the occasion please!

Ah, The Muse. Last time we were here it was too short and about as good as they come. This time was very similar.

Night view from The Muse room 1703

We figured out that 1703 is the room number of the room we like (because lucky dogs that we are, we snagged it again). What a shower! Sadly, we were all by ourselves this time. (Thanks Ray Mannon for your magic.)

1703 anteroom

Thanks for the amenity, especially the two LARGE san pellegrinos

After way too much korean food at Gayeon in Fort Lee, NJ, there was no room left for even one wafer thin slice of cheese. The sparkling water was perfect, however.

Gayeon was solid Korean in a suburban mall kind of upscale NJ space. Why is it that all of these restaurants in the ‘burbs feel the same? We had a blast watching the completely wasted couple one table away try to cope with reality.

desk nook 1703

bedroom 1703

looking thru the “takeout window” into the bathroom

SHOWER NIRVANA

NPS loves the shower in 1703. Yes on all fronts. Even has a bench. Sadly, the city of NY decided to turn off the water somewhat arbitrarily in the morning. We got a shower, but always under the threat of ending up all soapy. This is a bummer, and we must return.

This quick trip was so fast that there was no time for cocktails outside of the restaurant.

There is very good news about being Global Services on United! First class upgrade on the way out, and a free efficient switch to an earlier flight on the way back. We even managed to get a seat that did not suck. NPS approves of Global Services.

Uber on the other hand needs to get a map of NY and commit it to its computer’s memory.

Five showerheads and a fervent wish that NYC would get their utilities act together. Thanks to The Muse for a quick but nice stay.

This California in December thing seems to be a trend now that NPS works for a silicon valley company. What that means is a week-long delay in the start of our annual no fly nöel thing.

So how did 2018 stack up? Well the tripometer was up year over year after many years. And most of the travel was international. This year we visited:

  • London (twice)
  • Inverness
  • Stuttgart
  • Neuremberg
  • Tokyo
  • Kyoto
  • Oslo
  • Sardegna
  • Malta

Lots of time outside the confines of the broken United States and its Orange Caligula of a “President.”

Here’s the graph.

The annual tripometer. Trips are up for NPS.

Because of all of the international travel, we had some interesting impact on loyalty programs. It’s not even clear we’ll make inner circle this year at Kimpton (horrors)!

Other than the “not really Virgin America” we have no loyalty anymore for any airlines. Treat them all the same and let the chips fall where they will. Use money to “upgrade” by starting out upgraded. My my how things have changed.

A direct comparison of international business class shows United has the best service. Here are two examples.
Delta
United

Anyway, time to stay home by the fire for a while.

 

NPS has heard plenty of good things about Grand Hyatt Tokyo, but until just recently everything was just rumor and innuendo. The good news is that the rumors were all true. Grand Hyatt Tokyo is a great base of operations for exploring Tokyo.

NPS lives in Virginia. Getting to Tokyo (and to the Grand Hyatt) from Virginia takes about 18 hours. Lets review. First there is the car ride to IAD, then there is the 12.5 hour United flight (Polaris of course), then there is the N’ex from Narita into town.

One or two pieces of advice. We were assigned a deluxe king room 648. The club level is worth paying for (we found this out once we were comp’ed in by a friend). Pay more and get a corner room. Or heck, blow your wad and get a suite. Since this was an NPS first visit to Japan, we relied on friends to make our reservation when we probably should have checked things out more carefully and upped a level or two.

That said, 648 is “pretty not bad.” The sixth floor is a particularly great floor to be on since it also is the restaurant and shopping center (way upscale) connection floor.

Entrance hall 648

Every room needs green tea and a tea set because Japan

The bed does take up pretty much the whole room 648

Fortunately, the shower is WAY not plastic with a built in tub, multiple nozzles, and a very cool slit drain. This shower meets and exceeds NPS requirements on all fronts.

Of course the toilet tech involves many buttons, automatic lid lifting, and other mysteries.

Toilet with an advanced degree

The best part of the Grand Hyatt is the super-professional staff whose attention to detail and courtesy can’t be matched.

Some Tokto recommendations. Get ramen at Afuri (there are many) and also try some tsukemen at Fuunji. The sushi at the restaurant in the Grand Hyatt is quite delicious.

 

Watch out for Pat. He will stretch your Saturday night until 6:30am Sunday. A couple of great bars include Wodka Tonic and Bar Arashi. Vynil bars are over-rated. Watch live music (but use ear plugs if you are over 50).

 

 

 

Homemade gin infusion

See some live Rock and Roll.  Read about The Dead Bambies and Jungles!!! here.

Records and booze

Getting Later

Visit mori tower

Visit the shrines

Meiji Jingu and Senso-ji

Import the Liberal to the Local

Five showerheads for the Grand Hyatt Tokyo.